Otter number 61 was delivered to the RCAF on 4 January 1955 with serial 3694. It went into storage with No.6 Repair Depot, Trenton as a reserve aircraft, returning to DHC in January 1956 for incorporation of the AUW modification, after which it was assigned to the Fort Churchill, Manitoba Station Flight in August 1956, where it replaced 3681. It is first mentioned in the Churchill diary on 16 October 1956 operating a flight to The Pas and from then on it was most active in and out of Churchill.
On 19 February 1957 it went to the rescue of RCMP Otter CF-MPP which was unserviceable at Chesterfield Inlet with a broken propeller. On 10 June 1957 it operated a long range medevac to Winnipeg with an Eskimo child. That month it was joined by 3697, also serving with the Churchill Station Flight. On 26 January 1958 both Otters searched for RCAF CF-100 458 missing in the Churchill area and took photographs of the crash site. A few days later, on 31 January 1958 Transair Norseman CF-BSL crashed on a flight from Rankin Inlet to Chesterfield Inlet. 3694 flew to Chesterfield Inlet to evacuate the wounded and on 02 February evacuated the ground search party from the crash scene.
On 4 November 1958 a Transair Anson force landed twenty miles south of Eskimo Point. 3694 flew to the McConnill River on 6 November to pick up the pilot and passengers of the Anson. On 30 January 1959 3694 departed Churchill for a 450 mile flight northwest to Back River to airlift eskimos, from a region where their food supply was scarce, to Eskimo Point where conditions were better. The Otter had to force land in the Barrens due to engine failure and the crew and passengers had to spend a cold night in tents and igloos. A rescue was mounted the next day, with a 111 C&R Flight C-47 flying from Cambridge Bay to Baker Lake, near to the scene and Otter 3697 flying from Churchill to Baker Lake with a repair party. Due to adverse weather in the region, it was not possible to complete repairs on 3694 until 6 February when it returned to base after a very cold spell in the Barrens.
A few months later in May 1959, 3694 was in trouble again, on a flight from Churchill-Lynn Lake-Brochet and return. On the flight back a push rod failure necessitated a landing on an un-named lake south of Big Sand Lake, where the ice was dangerously soft, as break-up was near. 3697 flew out from Churchill and rescued the party, who were back at home by 6pm that evening, very thankful that their Otter had not sunk into the lake. Repairs were made the next day and 3694 flew back to Churchill. Three months later, in August 1959, 3694 was re-assigned to 111 C&R Flight at Winnipeg, leaving 3697 to soldier on as the Churchill Station Flight aircraft on its own.
At Winnipeg, 3694 continued to render yeoman service. On 7 March 1960 it was searching in the Lac Seul area for missing Piper Super Cub N9929D along with the Flight’s other Otter 3671, three Dakotas, a Lancaster and an H-34 helicopter and thirteen Dakotas from 2 AOS at Winnipeg. On 19 May ’60 it was searching for Piper PA20 CF-HJH overdue on a flight from Flin Flon to Tartan Lake, as were the Flight’s other Otters. On 19 September 1960 it left its summer base at Lac du Bonnet on floats for a Ground Observer Corps inspection tour of northern points, routing to Flin Flon-Snowahoe Lake-Southend-White Sand-Island Falls-Flin Flon-Pakatawagen-Laurie River-Jackpine Island-Brochet-Lynn Lake-Opochwanwa-South Indian Split Lake-Nelson House-Wabowden and back to Lac du Bonnet, a real bush outing.
On 10 August 1961 111C&R Otter 3743 made a forced landing due engine failure on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories, a considerable distance from its base, requiring a major rescue effort. 3694 departed from Winnipeg on 19 August with a repair party, routing via Fort Smith and Norman Wells to Fort Franklin, supporting H-34 9630 in connection with 3743’s engine change. The Otter and H-34 were still engaged on this task when they were diverted on 29 August to take part in ‘SAR Herriman’, a Cessna 180 CF-ICR on floats, overdue on a flight from Yellowknife to Coppermine and return. 3694 and 9630 flew from Fort Franklin to Yellowknife and joined the search. Over the days that followed the Otter did shore crawls of Redrock Lake, Point Lake, Lake Providena and Lac de Gras and checked some of pilot Herriman’s claim sites. The missing Cessna was eventually found. Otter 3743 was then repaired so that it too could return to base.
During April 1962 the dual controls fitted to 3694 were taken out and fitted to 3679, another of the Flight’s Otters. 3694 continued to serve with the Flight until 1 August 1962 when it was flown to the Lincoln Park, Calgary depot operated by Canadian Pacific Airlines for the RCAF and put into storage. Here it remained until February 1963 when its next posting took it to Puntzi Mountain, BC, home of the 55th Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron, which was to be its base for the next few years.
Puntzi Mountain, one of the radar sites along Canada’s Pinetree Line, was located in a remote part of northern British Columbia, in the Chilcotin area of the Cariboo, “117 rough and tumble road miles west of Williams Lake”. It had its own airfield, a 6,000 foot strip built for CF-100 fighters. The facility was originally manned by USAF personnel of 917 AC&W Sqn, and a Beaver was based at the airfield. In November 1962 the site was transferred to the RCAF and came under the control of the 55 AC&W Sqn, which carried out the same mission as the USAF unit had, and reported to the 25th NORAD Region located at McChord AFB, Seattle. Its day-to-day activity was controlling RCAF F-101 Voodoos flying from Comox and USAF F-102s from Paine Field, and F-106s from McChord AFB.
In February 1963 the 55th AC&W Sqn was designated as a flying unit, when it received Otter 3694 which was to be used for personnel transport, mail and supply deliveries, medical evacuation and any other duties directed by the Station Commander. One of the first tasks was to enlarge the existing hangar, which had housed the USAF’s Beaver but was too small for the Otter. A “scheduled service” was established by the Otter from Puntzi Mountain to Williams Lake on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of each week, in addition to on-demand flights. During February 1963, its first month of operation, 3694 flew 36 hours 10 minutes and flew 90 passengers and 4,285 pounds of freight.
On 6 March 1963 the Otter flew to Nemaia Valley in an attempt to pick up two sick Indian children. 3694 touched down on the frozen lake but had to take off immediately when the ice began to crack under its weight. When the Otter first arrived at Puntzi Mountain it was maintained by the air and ground crew assigned directly to the Station. On 21 March 1963 the Otter was transferred to the establishment of 442 (Auxiliary) Squadron at Sea Island, Vancouver, who would in future maintain the aircraft, which was to be permanently detached to Puntzi Mountain. Statistics for March 1963 were 32 hours flown, 86 passengers carried and 5,990 pounds of freight.
As well as the scheduled service, 3694 flew many medical evacuations, usually to the hospital at Williams Lake. On 18 April 1963 it flew to Vancouver for maintenance and was back by 20 April. Other tasks performed by the Otter included assisting the RCMP, searching for persons and vehicles and occasionally for missing aircraft. After 442 Sqn disbanded, the Otter was transferred to the establishment of 418 “City of Edmonton” Squadron, based at Namao but the Otter itself remained stationed at Puntzi Mountain. During the period 1 January to 31 December 1964 the Otter flew a total of 332 hours, carried 950 passengers and 23,000 pounds of mail and freight to and from Puntzi Mountain. On 11 February 1964 it had flown a medevac to Williams Lake, arriving back after dark when a flare path had been laid for its return. It had its last maintenance visit to Vancouver in early March and its next visit on 25 May 1964 was to Namao.
From 1 January 1966 up to 24 October 1966 the Otter flew 287 hours, carrying 899 passengers and 84,950 pounds of freight and mail. That however brought its stay at Puntzi Mountain to an end, as the station was then closed down and in November 1966 3694 went into storage at Saskatoon. There it remained until June 1967 when it was transferred to the National Aeronautical Establishment (NAE), Ottawa for a particular purpose. The NAE used their Variable Stability Bell 47G-3B-1 helicopter CF-PDX, which was fitted with an Otter cockpit, to simulate a STOL aircraft (in this case, an Otter) to assess the simulator’s capabilities in duplicating the flight characteristics of this class of aircraft. The Otter was used for comparison with the simulator. Direct comparisons were made by the pilots through alternate flights in the Bell and in the Otter. They concluded that a very convincing simulation could be effected, particularly with respect to lateral directional characteristics. The Otter itself was not modified and after the tests had completed, it was returned to the CAF in May 1969. It went into storage with the Aerospace Maintenance and Development Unit (AMDU) until August 1969 when it was allocated to 1 Air Reserve Wing at St.Hubert, near Montréal, Québec for use by 401 and 438 Squadrons. It continued to serve at St.Hubert until November 1975 when it was flown into storage with AMDU Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and put up for disposal through the Crown Assets Disposal Corporation.
The Otter remained in storage at Saskatoon until March 1977 when it was one of seven ex Canadian military Otters transferred to the Province of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources. In the case of 3694, the Bill of Sale was dated 30 March 1977 and the Otter had total airframe time at that stage of 6,126 hours. All seven of the Otters were flown to the Ministry’s base at Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario where they were rebuilt and modernised and repainted in the Ministry’s yellow and black colour scheme. Otter 61 was registered to the Ministry in July 1978 as C-GOFE and given tail number 73. For the next seven and a half years, OFE flew as one of the Ministry’s large fleet of Otters, serving the Ontario bush country. As the Ministry disposed of its Otter fleet during the mid 1980s, OFE was one of three Otters sold to an American company called Boundary Water Aire Inc., of Eveleth, Minnesota, the other two being C-GOFA (35) and C-GOFD (58).
Boundary Water Aire Inc., was an aircraft dealership and also had an overhaul and repair shop. The three Otters were bought to be refurbished and sold on. By letter dated 31 July 1985 the company notified the FAA that it had bought C-GOFE. By Bill of Sale 25 November 1985 the Ministry of Natural Resources transferred title of the Otter to Boundary Water Aire Inc and on the same day the Candian registration was cancelled and the Otter was registered N61FE to its new owner. The Otter was overhauled at Eveleth, Minnesota and on 8 January 1986 a US Certificate of Airworthiness was issued for N61FE, which at that stage had total airframe time of 7,782 hours. Work continued on the Otter in preparation for its sale on, including the installation of LORAN. In the meantime the Otter had been advertised for sale, and by Bill of Sale 3 June 1986 N61FE was sold to Rainbow King Lodge Inc of Iliamna, Alaska, being registered to its new owner the same day. It entered service alongside Otter N100BW (58) which the Lodge had earlier purchased from Boundary Water Aire.
As its website proclaimed: “Rainbow King Lodge rests gracefully on the shore of Alaska’s Lake Iliamna, surrounded by thousands of miles of protected and pristine wilderness. It just might be Alaska’s finest fishing resort. Here among this untamed majesty you’ll find wild strains of trophy Rainbow Trout; magnificent Silver, King, Pink and Sockeye and Chum salmon; monster Halibut, Grayling and Char, as big and plentiful as the promise of Alaska”.
The two Otters, both painted in the Lodge’s white, red and blue colours were used to fly guests from the Lodge to remote wilderness locations where the best of the fishing was to be found. Again, as the website explained: “Fly out each morning to exquisite waters where you, your fellow guides and companions are the only rods on the stream for miles. By midday your guide will have anticipated the growing gnaw of hunger and will prepare an elaborate streamside meal. Then the next several hours you’ll spend chasing trophy Rainbows or marvelling at the vast panorama until it is time to fly back to the Lodge”.
The two Otters together serviced the Lodge, flying alongside some Beavers, for a remarkable 25 years. Operations were summer only, with the aircraft being put into storage for the winters at Anchorage. One incident was recorded in relation to N61FE. On 22 July 2008 the float-equipped Otter sustained damage when it struck a tree while landing on a road, following an emergency descent four miles north of Iliamna. The pilot was scouting local lakes and rivers for fish for the lodge guests. While returning to a float pond near the Lodge, the engine lost oil pressure and quit. The pilot descended to the road and after touching the floats on the road, the left wing struck a tree, causing the airplane to depart the road. It transpired that a cylinder had separated from the engine, pulling off an oil line. Repairs were completed by 20 May 2009, in time for the Otter to re-enter service for the summer 2009 season.
In March 2011 the other Otter N100BW (58) was sold, but N61FE continued to fly for Rainbow King Lodge, alongside two Beavers. In April 2012 the Lodge and its aircraft were sold to new owners, who had bought the company. The registered address of Rainbow King Lodge Inc was changed to Lemoore, California (where its new owner lived) but Otter N61FE and the Beavers continued to support the Lodge at Iliamna in Alaska. Occasionally the Otter would appear on flight trackers, for example 19 July 2013 Iliamna to Igiugig, 46 miles away on the other side of the lake, level at five thousand feet, at 100 knots, journey time 40 minutes.
At the end of the summer 2013 season, N61FE was flown from Iliamna to Geraldton, Ontario where it was converted to a Texas Turbine Otter by Recon Air and re-painted into a new colour scheme of white top, red cheatline, blue undersides, white tail with red band. It also received an avionics update. On 10 April 2014 registration N928RK was reserved for the Otter and it was re-registered as such on 21 May 2014 and it then flew back to Alaska. In early June a small squawk list was dealt with by Tail Wind Aviation at Wasilla and the Otter then re-entered service with the Lodge for summer 2014. The Otter was in storage as usual over the winter of 2014 / 2015 and flew again for Rainbow King Lodge for summer 2015, until disaster struck on Tuesday 15 September 2015.
On that day the Otter was to fly a party of guests of the Lodge to a remote fishing site on the Swikshak River, about 75 miles northwest of Kodiak, for a day’s salmon fishing. The Otter was on East Wind Lake, Iliamna and the previous evening had been loaded with all the equipment needed for the outing. Early that morning a Lodge employee transported the nine guests and the pilot from the Lodge in a van to East Wind Lake for the early morning departure. According to the Lodge employee, after the passengers boarded the Otter, the pilot started the engine and then he untied the floats so the pilot could taxi away from the shoreline. The Lodge employee reported that dark night conditions prevailed (as it was still only 6am) but he was able to watch the airplane as it started its westerly take-off run. He said that after the Otter began to climb, it descended, and the floats struck the water. It then became airborne again, but he lost sight of it as it descended behind an area of rising, tree-covered terrain. It impacted tree and tundra-covered terrain just after take-off from East Wind Lake, one mile north of the Iliamna Airport.
The alarm was raised immediately and local people from the nearby village of Iliamna came to help. The Alaska State Troopers got the call at 6.30am and were quickly on the scene. Sadly, three of the fishing lodge guests (two from California and one from Pennsylvania) had been killed in the crash. Five of the seven survivors were in a serious to critical condition and two had sustained only minor injuries and were able to walk away. The crash site was near a private road which offered relatively easy access to the downed Otter, enabling the wounded to be carried on stretchers to the small clinic in Iliamna. The Rescue Co-Ordination Centre had also been notified of the crash and shortly after 7am the Alaska Air National Guard despatched a HC-130 Hercules and a HH-60 Pave Hawk, each carrying a para-rescue team, from Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmdorf-Richardson to Iliamna. All of the wounded had been transported to Anchorage aboard the Hercules by noon. The bodies of those who had been killed were also flown to Anchorage.
The NTSB investigation team arrived soon after. They found the wreckage about a hundred yards from the departure end of the lake. The Otter sat on boggy ground. Its right side was planted firmly into the hilly tundra, surrounded by alders and spruce trees, with the left wing sticking straight up. The propeller blades were curled backward and the underside of the front fuselage was crumpled. Over the next few days the Otter was disassembled and an AS350 from Soloy Helicopters lifted the pieces to the nearby Iliamna Airport where they were put into a hangar for investigation.
The crashed Otter was replaced by another Texas Turbine N947RK (77) in service with Rainbow King Lodge Inc., in August 2016.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005), now with added and updated information which Karl has supplied for the benefit of the website.